A catch up on the last two years \'down on the farm\'

A catch up on the last two years 'down on the farm'

2019-03-10 20:29:57
Its a cold March day, with winds in excess of 45 mph blowing furniture and pots across the patio accompanied by sleet, sun, rain and everything in-between so what better time to curl up indoors and write a long overdue update/blog on developments ‘down on the farm’.

Its been two and a half busy years since our last blog. With the woodland and orchard trees planted and establishing themselves it was time to get on with the garden, which took many man hours and hundreds of plants but now looks amazing. The main garden is based around four large island beds full to the brim with ornamental grasses for height and movement (and because we love them) and herbaceous plants such as rudbeckia, geums, verbena and many more. Preparing the beds ready for planting was a major and heavy undertaking given the ground was once covered in ram-shackle farm buildings and stone and rubble are still not far below the surface. The back breaking clearing of the hardcore took some time. We started with two ying yang shaped borders, the third followed last year and border #4 is only just completed. To each border we added heaps of home made compost and topped with soil conditioner (from a 15t delivery from Virador (a national recycling company who produce, amongst other things, soil conditioner and compost made from household domestic organic waste). After rotavating and mulching with woodchip, they were ready to plant with over 500 relatively tiny plants, which grew into magnificent specimens within a year.

The vegetable plot has become established, and is soon to be expanded. It has provided a bountiful supply of vegetables including peas, green beans, cucumber, butternut squash, broccoli, celeriac, leeks and much more. With more practice in successional planting and more freezer space created we should be able to make ourselves self sufficient veg wise.

A huge undertaking has been the extension and restoration of a dilapidated stone stable, which is now a two-bedroom cottage. With a double (kingsize) bedroom and a twin room together with an open plan living and kitchen area, it is decidedly cute and cosy and features flat floors and a good sized wet room. The Old Stable is now available to book and details can found here: https://chappelsfarm.wixsite.com/oldstable

Finally, we have managed to get the large wildlife pond (almost) completed. Having completed lining it last October, now in March it has filled itself with rainwater - it has been quite some project and we can’t wait to see what wildlife it draws in. Our first inhabitants spotted are two water Whirligig bugs - we have named them Chas and Dave. (Im not actually sure which is which). They have already been joined by some of their friends. The arrival of Chas and Dave caused great excitement. I will be doing actual cartwheels when we spot our first frog! More on the pond in future blogs.

After the last three busy years of working away much of the time, 2019 is definitely focused on the farm and one of our (many) priority tasks is to continue to tackle the grass around the young native woodland trees. Once fully established, the trees will need little care but for now it is a seemingly endless task. To illustrate the point, the silver birches planted in our cultivated island borders have thrived and stand 10-12ft tall with their beautifully silvery trunks looking sturdy and true. The silver birch in the woodland, from the same original batch, stand around 6-8ft tall and their girth is around half the size. (Interesting fact: according to the Woodland Trust, a silver birch provides food and habitat for over 300 insect species! :))

Hopefully 2019 will also see the arrival of the long awaited pair of rescue donkeys as well as the construction of a fruit cage and work on the White Garden, (inspired by that at Sissinghurst Castle (and also much closer to home at Barrington Court) - if you haven't visited either, I highly recommend. Both now owned by the National Trust).

This year already has seen extraordinary things happening climate-wise. February in the UK started with snow (even here in the mild south west) and finished with a heatwave that broke all records. Our plants and birds didn’t know what to do with themselves, especially when the temperatures fell downhill again. Things are changing, of that there is no doubt. The Woodland Trust are tracking the impact of these changes on the UK’s flora and fauna and are asking people to record their first sightings of over 70 plants plants, animals and fungi. Its quick and easy to take part by registering what you see here on ‘Nature’s Calendar’ https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/natures-calendar/

Finally, don’t forget our online shop for lovely gifts, all inspired by nature. New additions include Bees Wax Wraps - a fabulous and sustainable alternative to plastic bags and cling film made in Gloucestershire. Also the popular and gorgeous collection of notepads is growing as well as some special Somerset items. http://www.inspiredbynaturedirect.com/en/shop.php

Pic: Clockwise - A typical flash of colour from the island borders; a glimpse inside the Old Stable; first time planting in the wildlife pond; and Little Owl, who remains a regular visitor.

Spring (and early summer) has sprung on the farm!

Spring (and early summer) has sprung on the farm!

2016-08-01 23:31:40
(A little late…again!) Spring has sprung on the farm. House martins, swallows, blue tits, great tits, robins and bad boys - magpies and rooks - are in abundance. Early morning is a cacophony of bird song.

June - not so flaming this year - has seen most of the young woodland trees going though a growth spurt and starting to peep over the top of their high protective tubes. A hard lesson learnt was not making sure all the trees had been sufficiently mulched with wood chip to keep surrounding grass and weeds at bay. As a result, and seemingly overnight, the beautiful meadow grasses, loving the mixture of wet and warm weather, have shot up around them, blocking the sun and crowding the baby trees, competing for water and nutrients from the soil.
To try to minimise the effect of this long sessions have been spent on hands and knees, cutting back the grasses, removing each protective tube, pulling up the grass and weeds immediately around the base of the trees, having a quick chat with them (Prince Charles would be proud) before encasing them back inside their tubes (not so easy now the saplings are sprouting). And finally surrounding them with a deep bed of mulch. More work to be done here, including planting Yellow Rattle this autumn, which should help to tackle the grass.

Over in the orchard, most of the trees are full of leaf and many have produced apples - all removed bar one per tree - hard to do and it feels like we are going against nature, but it will help them in the long run if they can get their roots well established this year. We’ve lost two of the 47 planted, so not a bad loss, Plus I added a greengage and a damson a few months ago and they have taken off really well. Im looking forward to making damson and port jam (will be available via the online shop before too long!) it will have to go some to beat the popularity of the Plum and Mulled Wine Jam mind you:)

The pair of quince trees are suffering from blight again this year, as last, but I have it on good authority it is to be expected in our area of the country, but despite that the resulting fruit should be okay. Let’s face it, they are not the prettiest fruits to start with!

Last year’s regular orchard visitor, Little Owl, has not made his presence known so much this year. I have seen him a handful of times in the last few months, but not daily as last year, sadly. How lovely then, to go out late one recent evening and spot not just one but a pair of little owls in my torchlight. Having been a little spooked by me, they flew to alternate perches but did not fly away completely for a couple of minutes. What a joy.

A sad update as we go to press - Shirley (Bassey) - a blue maran hen (pictured) not singing Welsh diva - has gone to the hen coop in the sky. Having also lost one of our ex-batts, Tilla, a little while ago, it is time to get some more, so next weekend we will be collecting four more ex-batts from the British Hen Welfare Trust and giving them a much better life than they will have had thus far.

Finally, having been an avid Blue Peter fan as a child (and indeed winning a much coveted Blue Peter Badge!) I think we ought to bury a Blue Peter style time capsule under one of the oak trees. Any ideas what to put in it? Leave suggestions on our Facebook page please!

Winter 2015 - Wet and Windy!

Winter 2015 - Wet and Windy!

2016-03-02 23:29:31
Apologies for the delay in this blog. November and December came and went in a flash.

The first week of December saw the delivery of the woodland trees, all wrapped up on a pallet like a big Christmas present. Our planting weekend weather forecast was for a cold, windy and wet in parts weekend, and so it was. But you can’t change the weather, so all togged up we and our hardy small-but-perfectly-formed band of volunteers, Clare, Clive and Caroline, made their way across the paddock armed with spades and lump hammers.

The most time consuming part was moving around the various bits and pieces – the stakes and tubes for the trees and spiral and canes for the shrubs.

One stumbling block had been the lack of available information about planting woodlands. The general advice is to plant in wavy lines, with specimen trees in groups of ten to twenty trees, with shrubs planted around the outside to create a gradual incline to the larger trees.

In the event I marked out three large ovals for the three main groups of trees, an area for the coppice and another for the Sissinghurst-inspired nuttery. The simple task of marking out with a sports line-marking spray turned into something of a back breaking exercise as I needed to bend over and walk/spray so that it didn’t blow away as soon as it came out of the can. We then mowed the areas to shorten the grass and provide a more visual guide as to where to plant.

We began by planting a central tree in each of the three ovals and then pacing out roughly three meters in various directions to plant the rest. We notch planted (making a T-cut in the ground with the spade and then leaning back on the spade to open up the notch. After inserting the sapling in the centre it is then relatively easy to heel the sapling safely into the ground.) Gradually each little sapling was planted, covered by a protective tube, and staked in.

The wind and wild weather that followed that week gave them all a good watering and checked out our staking prowess.

Ninety-nine trees – willow, oak, sweet chestnut and hazel, were planted in the coppice. Neat rows of trees in 1.5m spacings.

Close-by walnut and sweet chestnut trees have been planted in rows to create a nuttery. I look forward to the day when the mature nuttery is underplanted with woodland plants – primroses and violets amongst others. I alluded earlier to Sissinghust Castle. If you have not visited before, it is definitely worth a trip. Wonderful gardens created with love and passion. I adore this quote from their website https://sissinghurstcastle.wordpress.com/category/the-nuttery/

For Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson, the presence of an ancient nuttery and an Elizabethan tower in the grounds of Sissinghurst were enough to make them fall head over heels, with Harold writing on April 6th 1930 ‘We come suddenly upon a nut walk and that settles it…’ Never mind the fact that the rest of the house was virtually a ruin and totally uninhabitable; they had fallen in love with a nuttery and the rest, as they say, is history.

Planting the trees – the oaks - especially evoked a strange feeling of mortality. They could be here in hundreds of years time, long, long after we have all gone. Will someone be standing under one thinking “I wonder who planted that?” just like I do now under the beautiful oaks that stand in nearby Dillington Park.

Crab apples have been planted within the woodland but also around the edge of the orchard, which should be a huge boost to the fruit trees.

Meanwhile, there has been a rush on for plum and mulled wine jam! So much so, we are now out of stock. I’m glad others have found it so lovely. There will be more in the making very soon.

Apples in the air - October 2015

Apples in the air - October 2015

2015-11-02 11:42:05
October has been a month of beautiful autumnal colours with the scent of apples in the air and harvesting taking place all around us. Farmers have been working until late into the night to bring in the thousands of acres of maize that have surrounded us all summer. The relatively dry and bright days presumably helped. The lack of wind, a welcome relief after the blowy summer, has slowed the leaf fall, making the glorious colours last a little longer than usual. Traditional Apple Days have been held at orchards around and about with a wide range of assorted apple fare being served, orchards open to visitors and, most importantly, apples being collected and pressed for juice and cider. Pictured is an old, originally horse-drawn, press being put to good use in a neighbouring orchard.

Here on the farm rather slower progress has been made, largely due to other commitments. However, much research and preparation has been made for the arrival of the woodland trees in the first week of December. Lots of garden planning has also been going on, a major project in itself.

One critter accidentally unearthed in the garden, identified, and then buried again, was a stag beetle larva (pictured). Stag beetles are the largest ground beetles in the UK, stunning to look at with a strange lifecycle and endangered across to the world, due mainly to their reducing habitat. They need decaying wood to live on and to lay their eggs in however parkland and gardens often get ‘tidied up’ and this valuable resource cleared away. Not the prettiest larvae, but they turn into the most magnificent looking creatures. I was surprised to learn that stag beetles spend the majority of their life underground, from three to seven years, only emerging as an adult one May day to mate, before dying by late August. For that short few months the males spend their days sunbathing and flying around looking for a mate, and if lucky, mating. Encourage them in your garden by providing piles of wood, leaves and compost and if you stumble across larvae, bury it again as quickly as possible. Should you be lucky enough to spot a stag beetle, here is the link to a research survey being run by Peoples Trust for Endangered Species and the Royal Holloway, University of London.

Talking of endangered species, we also had a welcome visit from a large hedgehog, the first we have seen here. Alerted to it by our curious dogs, the hog was curled up in a tight ball on the patio – I hope he or she lives close-by. It probably already has a home, but just in case I am going to build one or two ‘hog houses’ to encourage them. We’ve certainly got plenty of slugs to share with them!
http://www.britishhedgehogs.org.uk/leaflets/L5-Hedgehog-Homes.pdf - no planning permission required!!

October also saw the launch of our preserve sales – jams and chutneys ‘hand made in Somerset’. Plum and Mulled Wine Jam is my favourite – it tastes of Christmas. We are also awaiting delivery of some very special works of art to our online shop. Beautiful cards and framed pictures created by The Barefoot Beachcomber in Devon. Made from fragments of natural materials collected from the beach along with vintage finds, the original cards are meant to be framed and treasured. Give them as a card, or as a ready-framed picture.

Check out the site for lots of Christmas present ideas - items can be gift-wrapped and sent directly to friends and loved ones, at no extra cost. Just drop us a line when you order with instructions.

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